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Poisoning

218 Western Australians died in 2019 due to unintentional poisoning. Infographic
414 children presented to Perth Childrens Hospital’s Emergency Department from July 2019 to June 2020 due to a poisoning-related incident. Infographic
The WA Poisons Information Centre receives approximately 40,000 phone calls annually from the general public and medical professionals. Infographic

Definition of Poisoning

Poisoning occurs when people unintentionally drink, eat, breathe, inject or touch enough of a hazardous substance (poison) to cause illness or death.1

Impact of Poisoning on Western Australia

Who does it impact?

In Western Australia between 2015 and 2019 there were:2

  • 11,308 hospitalisations due to accidental poisoning.
  • 56.9% of hospitalisations for accidental poisoning were males.
  • people aged 25 – 44 had the highest incidence of accidental poisoning.

In Western Australia Aboriginal peoples make up 3.1% of the population, however between 2011 and 2015 9.3% of poisoning hospitalisations were Aboriginal people.2,3

All data for poisoning includes unintentional poisonings by nonopioid analgesics, antipyretics and anti-heumatics; antiepileptic, sedative-hypnotic, anti-parkinsonism and psychotropic drugs; narcotics and hallucinogens; other and unspecified drugs, medicaments and biological substances; and by other and unspecified chemicals and noxious substances.

Where does it occur?

In Western Australia, between 2015 and 2019, the three regions with the greatest difference in hospitalisation rate compared to the WA State hospitalisation rate, were the Kimberley (180% higher), Midwest (40% higher) and Wheatbelt (36% higher).2

Impact on health system

In Western Australia in 2019, there were 2,345 hospitalisations for poisoning, consuming an estimated 6,220 bed days at an approximate cost of $14,016,066.2

Determinants of Poisoning

Age

Young children are closer to the ground and are very curious, often touching objects and attempting the put objects into their mouths. As children grow they become more mobile, increasing their ability to reach objects but lack the awareness of what could place them in harm, putting them at an increased risk of poisoning.4

Awareness of poison safety behaviours

A lack of knowledge about the safe storage of poisons, appropriate medicine intake and the services offered by the Poison Information Centre all pose as risk factors for accidental poisoning.4

Storage of poisons

The storage of poisons out of reach of children, in the original packaging and the correct use of child-resistant closures on containers are important protective factors towards reducing the risk of poisoning incidents in children.5

Peer pressure and risk taking

Peer pressure and risk-taking behaviour can lead to the misuse of alcohol and other drugs, which can increase the risk of poisoning, especially among teenagers.1

Effective Interventions

Labelling of poisons legislation

Legislation surrounding the promotion of storing poisons in a safe place has proven effective. This includes ensuring that the phrase “keep out of reach of children” is easily visible on the packaging and instructions outline the appropriate use of the poison.4

Western Australian example: Under the Commonwealth Therapeutic Goods Act 1989 manufacturers of drugs and poisons must comply with the Commonwealth requirements for the labelling and packaging of poisons that are outlined in the Standard for the Uniform Scheduling of Drugs and Poisons.6

Poisons Information Centres

In the event of poisoning or suspected poisoning, Poisons Information Centres allow for easy access to emergency first-aid information over the phone. This service helps prevent unnecessary burden on hospital emergency departments, while their expert advice contributes to decreasing the morbidity and mortality of poisoning.4

Western Australian example: The Western Australian Poisons Information Centre is a government funded telephone information service that provides information about poisoning to the general public and health professionals. In the event of poisoning or suspected poisoning the centre is able to provide advice to callers about further actions to take and follow up treatment advice.5

Child Safety Centres

Community based initiatives that promote a child safety centre have proven effective in increasing the awareness of poison hazards in the home and improving home safety practices.4 Child safety centres have information and products relating to home safety and increase consumers access to discounted safety devices.

Western Australian example: The Safety Demonstration House, run by Kidsafe WA, showcases a safe home environment, including awareness raising of poisons hazards around the home and improving home safety practices. An Online Safety Demonstration House is also available for individuals who are unable to attend the physical house.

Restricting access to poisons programs

Research into initiatives that aim to reduce access to potential poisons around the home have supported the association between access to potential poisons around the home and cases of poisoning.4

Western Australian example: The Return Unwanted Medicines project operates through pharmacies, providing a free disposal service for out of date and unwanted medicines. This project aims to reduce the likelihood of poisoning from medical products and operates on the principle that reducing the amount of poisons near young children in the home will reduce the chance of poisoning.

Organisations and programs in Western Australia

Injury Matters Poisoning Resources

Poisoning Injuries in WA Factsheet

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Snake Bite Toolkit

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Other Resources

AIHW, Injury in Australia: accidental poisoning

AIHW, Venomous bites and stings, 2017-18

Injury Matters, ‘How to prevention medication poisonings in older adults’ webinar recording

Kidsafe WA, Childhood Injury Research Report: Injuries within the Home

WA Department of Health, Injury Prevention in Western Australia: A Review of Statewide Activity for Selected Injury Areas

WA Department of Health, Incidence and costs of injury in Western Australia in 2012

WA Poisons Information Centre, Poisons Factsheets

References

  1. World report on child injury prevention. (World Health Organization ; UNICEF, 2008).
  2. Data generated using HealthTracks Reporting, by the Epidemiology Branch, WA Department of Health in collaboration with the Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information (CRC-SI), March 2021.
  3. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Western Australia, People www.censusdata.abs.gov.au/census_services/getproduct/census/2016/quickstat/5?opendocument (2017).
  4. Arena, G., Cordova, S., Gavine, A., Palamara, P. & Rimajova, M. Injury in Western Australia: a review of best practice, stakeholder activity, legislation and recommendations. (2002).
  5. WA Health. WA Poisons Information Centre. North Metropolitan Health Service https://www.scgh.health.wa.gov.au/our-services/service-directory/poisons (2020).
  6. Australian Government. Therapeutic Goods Act 1989 https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/C2019C00066 (2019).

Find out more

The Know Injury program is provided by Injury Matters and funded by the WA Department of Health.